Updated: February 22, 2014 at 5:00 pm
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The National Park Service has approved a management plan for the Virgin River and its tributaries in Zion National Park in southern Utah.
The formal adoption of the Virgin River Comprehensive Management Plan on Thursday follows the 2009 designation by Congress of 169 miles of the Virgin River and its tributaries in and around the park as "wild and scenic waterways."
The purpose of the plan is to protect the park's 144 miles of waterways so visitors can continue to enjoy them in the future, park spokeswoman Kezia Nielsen said.
"The plan helps us identify things we can monitor to maintain the wild and scenic status," Nielsen told The Salt Lake Tribune. "Most visitors will not notice a difference in how they use the park."
The plan embraces new strategies and practices to ensure the waterways maintain their wild and scenic status, including increasing the presence of park rangers in the popular Narrows and timing the park's shuttle service to reduce overcrowding there.
Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, praised the new plan. His nonprofit works to conserve Utah rivers.
"I think their plan is a competent plan," he told the Deseret News. "The wild and scenic designation is really a great management tool. It can be used to protect rivers and give them a better, more reliable future."
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is working on its own management plan for waterways flowing in and out of Zion.
The benefits afforded under the plan underscore the need for greater protections for Utah rivers, Frankel said.
Until 2009, Utah was one of 10 states in the nation that lacked any rivers designated as wild and scenic by Congress.
"It is sad that it has taken 40 years-plus to have our first wild and scenic river when some states have 30," Frankel said. "We have the Green, the Colorado, the San Rafael and the Price. These are beautiful rivers that support a multibillion-dollar recreation economy."